When tasked to take an "ugly" and/or "old" how to manual or instructional book, there is certainly no shortage of material to work with. In order to maintain personal sanity and one's love of design, it would seem like choosing something within a designer's personal wheelhouse would be best.
In this instance, I selected the Piano Adventures series of instructional piano books by Faber. Not only was music an important subject to me, but I used these books to be taught how to play the piano when I was a child. There was personal meaning to this one that also made it fun. Not only was I very familiar with the material, but it was also a new challenge. I had never designed for an audience of children before.
My main goal with this design overhaul was to maintain the importance of the information and the interest to a child while also using a consistent design and illustration style throughout the book. Room for the art and information to breathe was also a main factor to focus on. 
I ultimately chose to play off of the title of the series and created three cute animal characters as well as a simple environment for them to exist in to help the young student enjoy learning and retaining information. As a sort of interactive element, everywhere the characters appear (with the only exception being the very front cover), they are paper dolls that pop off the page and have movable arms (seen below).
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